Amarillo first responders remember 9/11 during ceremony at Texas Panhandle War Memorial

Lonnie Hollabaugh stood with the Amarillo Firefighters Pipes and Drums on Monday holding an American flag bearing dozens of signatures addressed to his children Kurt, Conner and Caleb in the white stripes — a gift from survivors and Ground Zero first responders 16 years ago.

He was among the firefighters, police and about 100 civilians who solemnly gathered at the Texas Panhandle War Memorial to remember the nearly 3,000 people who died 16 years ago in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Hollabaugh — who brought back another flag that is hanging at AFD Station 10 — and 22 other Amarillo firefighters flew to New York three months after the tragedy, staying in a motel down the street from the rubble for a week. They moved around the wreckage each night from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. offering coffee, hot chocolate and snacks to exhausted rescue workers and visited FDNY stations during the day, unable to sleep after taking in gruesome sights and smells.

“They had an ambulance there, it kind of looked like our ambulances but a little bigger,” Hollabaugh said. “And they had a big old table there, and as they found a body part they would lay it down to catalog it.”

Images of a wedding ring at the end a severed arm and a pregnant woman crushed under a metal beam have stuck in Hollabaugh’s mind, as have bins of people’s personal effects such as glasses and credit cards.

Though the events of Sept. 11, 2001, impacted survivors and rescue workers the most, all Americans felt terrorism’s deadly touch that day, Mayor Ginger Nelson said.

“It shaped us as a nation,” Nelson said. “For the first time in a long time, we considered ourselves as one, not as two parties, not as 50 separate states, not as hundreds of cities and millions of individuals.”

For Amarillo Police Department Sgt. Thomas Higgins, leader of the Honor Guard, the airplanes crashing into the Twin Towers served as a wake-up call.

Higgins was driving his toddler daughter to a friend’s house when his wife called to tell him the first plane had hit. His suspicions of terrorism were confirmed when the second plane slammed into the south tower, but he continued driving to his job as a project manager for a laboratory equipment dealer, where his boss had brought in a television to keep people abreast of what was happening.

Higgins had already been looking for a possible new career and had family in Amarillo. He applied to APD and began cadet training the following year.

“I think 9/11 did have an effect as far as me coming into public service,” Higgins said. “I had always wanted to do something like this, you know, something that had a really good meaning.”

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President Trump gives stern warning to terrorists during 9/11 ceremony. A4

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